U.N. envoy: Abuses continue in Burma despite reforms
rangoon, burma — Human rights abuses are still occurring in Burma despite government reforms, a U.N. rights envoy said Saturday, citing what he described as the arbitrary arrest and torture of alleged ethnic Kachin rebels.
Tomas Ojea Quintana, U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burma, was speaking at the end of a five-day mission to the country, where President Thein Sein has pushed through reforms since the end of military rule in 2011.
“While this process of reform is continuing in the right direction, there are significant human rights shortcomings that remain unaddressed,” Quintana told reporters. He called for urgent action before the problems became entrenched.
The quasi-civilian government has agreed to cease-fires with most of the ethnic rebel groups fighting for autonomy. But fighting flared up in Kachin state in June 2011, and the conflict escalated late last year when the military used airstrikes to thwart what it said was rebel aggression.
Peace talks were held across the border in China this month, and Quintana said he was encouraged by that development. He also welcomed the government’s decision to allow a U.N. humanitarian convoy access to areas controlled by the rebels.
But, he added, “I am concerned about the ongoing practice of arbitrary arrest and torture during interrogation by the military of Kachin men accused of belonging to the Kachin Independence Army.”
Another area, Rakhine state, suffered two bouts of deadly sectarian violence last year between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas. About 120,000 people are living in camps, according to Quintana. Although conditions had improved since his last visit, in August, the bigger Muslim camps still lack adequate health care, he said, and harassment of medical staff by Rakhine Buddhists was one of the reasons.
The government needs to address the problem of freedom of movement in the camps, he said, remarking that one “felt more like a prison than a camp.”